When will atmospheric CO2 start to impair our mental functions?


atmospheric CO2













It’s well known that even slightly elevated CO2 concentrations can impair mental functions. For example, this paper does a pretty good job of summarizing the danger. Here is one of the relevant paragraphs from that source:

Systematic relationships were found between most of the cognitive function scores and CO2 concentration, including from 550–945 ppm and from 945–1,400 ppm. Across the full domain of CO2 concentrations, the apparent statistical relationships were linear for some declines in cognitive function scores with increasing CO2 concentration (e.g., overall ability to make decisions), and nonlinear for others, wherein the decline in cognitive score is more pronounced between 945 and 1,400 ppm (e.g., complex strategizing). Not only were such reductions in cognitive function score statistically significant, but they were also typically rather large—on the order of tens of percent decrease in performance per ~400-ppm CO2 increase (equivalent to a doubling of present-day outdoor CO2 concentration).

The question is, when will we feel the effect? Quite soon, actually. Let’s take a look at this CO2 graph, data taken from NASA.

Now, if we perform a linear regression, we get this:

Obviously, the CO2 curve’s increase is increasing in other words, the increase is slightly greater than linear. I used data only from the year 2000 onwards because the earlier years have an even more gentle increase, which would give too conservative an estimate.

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The regression line is given by:
$$y = -4121 + 2.244x.$$ The study says that cognitive effects can be detected around 550ppm, although they do get much stronger after that. But in any case, it’s easy to solve for $y = 550$ in this equation to get the year 2081. Keep in mind that because our regression line is linear, and already under the actual value for last few years, our estimate is conservative. So, it’s very likely that we’ll hit 550ppm in 57 years unless we do something very serious to stop it. Chances are, I might even still be alive then! And people born today will be fairly young when this happens.

We wouldn’t have this problem if it weren’t for technology, and technology so far is not doing much to help. We must start changing our entire attitude and dismantle global capitalism if we are to have any hope of returning the planet to normal!

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